'Pitch Perfect' Is Making Hollywood More Feminist Than Ever Before
In its entire theatrical run, the original Pitch Perfect made $65 million in the U.S. Considering that movie was made for only $17 million, the gross was a great return on investment. Sure, it wasn't the biggest box office haul ever, but it was pretty great for a small, female-centric film with musical elements.
Fast-forward to this past weekend: Pitch Perfect 2 opened to $70 million domestically. That's right: The sequel made $5 million more than the original did — in its entire run! — in only one weekend. Not only that, but it beat the still-strong Avengers: Age of Ultron and new release Mad Max: Fury Road.
Executives at Universal Pictures, the film's distributor, will likely be celebrating long past Monday morning. Yet there are plenty of reasons to cheer even if you're not directly and financially benefitting from Pitch Perfect 2's success. The massive opening weekend is a sign that the tide is finally turning in Hollywood, and the Barden Bellas are leading the charge.
Pitch Perfect 2 picks up three years after the previous film leaves off. The Bellas, Barden University's premier a cappella group, are looking to round out a three-year winning streak on the national stage. They've changed the perception of women in a cappella, and are headed to a worldwide competition to prove themselves once again. In a meta moment, the series' success is doing the same: proving what we should already know.
This didn't happen just because of a group of a cappella stars, of course. Getting studios to believe female-dominated narrative has been a decades-long process of transformation. The Devil Wears Prada showed there was an audience for the Sex and the City movie, which showed there was an audience for Sex and the City 2. Bridesmaids showed there was an audience for movies like this summer's Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy vehicles Trainwreck and Spy.
The key, Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2 screenwriter Kay Cannon says, is in the material. "I definitely think there's a hunger for females at the core," Cannon said in an interview with Mic. "If you've got good material and talented actresses, for sure [you can] tell female stories, or stories with women at the helm."
Cannon, who is of the same gender as both her film's stars and its director, Elizabeth Banks, added the film attracts audience members "of all genders and of all different age demographics." That's an important point to keep in mind: Just because this film is by women and about women doesn't mean it's exclusively for women.
In an interview with Mic, Pitch Perfect star Ester Dean talked about the diversity of the films' audiences. "The fact that everybody loves this movie? It's not just women," she said. "I think it's just for the warm of heart. I think you start seeing a lot of people's hearts when they see Pitch Perfect."
It's as Cate Blanchett said in her Oscar speech in 2014 of female-oriented stories: "Audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people!" Each successful female-fronted film serves as a chink in the increasingly silly-looking argument that moviegoers don't want to see female-fronted movies. Yet somehow, just now, studios are finally waking up to see that Earth is indeed spherical.
Is this a real change in trend, or are we just preparing ourselves for another return to form? The answer lies in this weekend's other top-grossing film, Mad Max: Fury Road. The Mad Max sequel made $44 million, all while pissing off men's rights activists angry that the film prominently features feminist themes. Spoiler alert for those who haven't seen the movie, but it's literally about overthrowing the patriarchy.
Perhaps even more impressively, the movie grossed an impressive amount in tandem with star Charlize Theron's prominent place on the posters. Her character, Imperator Furiosa, is as central to the ads as she is to the film. There was no hiding the female star like other films (e.g. Frozen) did in their marketing. This movie won over audiences and critics on being what it is.
What does this mean? It means it's no longer a risk to make and market a female-driven narrative as such. Movies like Frozen and Pitch Perfect have proven that they're successful, and will continue to prove that as their individual studios produce Frozen 2 and, presumably, Pitch Perfect 3. Other studios will prove that by producing more female-fronted narratives, like this summer's Ricki and the Flash and Inside Out. If Mad Max director George Miller gets to make his Theron-fronted sequel Mad Max: Furiosa, we can be sure he'll do the same.
It's no longer a risk to make and market a female-driven narrative as such.
This weekend feels like a watershed moment. It feels like change is actually happening in Hollywood. Months and years to come will prove whether or not this is true, but if the tide is actually turning, we can mark May 15 to 17, 2015, as a major moment in the movement.
Until then, we have plenty of female heroes to thank for making this change possible — including and especially the women of Pitch Perfect.